bait-and-switch

Campbell Brown's abusive-teachers war preceded Twitter spat

Campbell Brown testified before the state's Education Reform Commission on the issue of teachers found to have abused children last week.

Campbell Brown says she’s done using Twitter to provoke union leaders into a debate.

After a furious 48-hour exchange this week with AFT President Randi Weingarten, in which the 140-character messages quickly elevated into charges of sexism and conflicted interests, Brown said she wants the next showdown to be face-to-face.

“I’d love to sit down with Randi and have a real debate,” Brown said this morning in a phone interview. But she added a caveat. “There’s nothing to debate.”

In less than a week, Brown, a former NBC White House correspondent and CNN anchor, has gone from largely unknown in education advocacy to the center of a heated war of words with union leaders over how to handle teachers suspected of — and found guilty of — sexual misconduct with students. She outlined her case in a provocatively headlined column in Sunday’s Wall Street Journal.

But the op/ed wasn’t Brown’s first public statement about the issue of sexual predators in schools. A week ago, she delivered a surprising testimony on the issue before Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission during its New York City meeting.

Not everyone who asked to speak was given a chance to. But Brown had been given the top speaking slot on the “teacher quality” panel with testimony that coupled concern about sex abuse with statistics about low student test scores and college-readiness rates.

The speech she delivered was significantly different.

She had done away with discussion about student performance and added in three examples — complete with names and salacious details — of teachers who have not been fired despite being found to have behaved inappropriately.

After the meeting, Brown told GothamSchools why she had revised her testimony.

“I don’t think it was really what they were planning to focus on,” she said. “But if we’re going to address quality, this certainly falls under it.”

Brown, a mother of two children who aren’t quite school-aged, said she became interested in the issue as she read more and more of the city’s tabloid headlines that detailed cases where teachers who were found to have acted inappropriately were allowed to return to the classroom. She said recent events were decisive.

“I think in the context of the Sandusky stuff, it was just really getting to me,” she said, referring to the Penn State football coach convicted of molesting many young boys, even after some of his supervisors knew about allegations against him. “I mean how could it not?”

Since the op-ed, Brown has become the subject of heightened attention, both positive and negative. She appeared that morning on Morning Joe, whose host, Joe Scarborough, is a vocal critic of teachers unions. Then she took to Twitter, where she reached out to Weingarten.

“Why is teachers union protecting teachers who commit sexual misconduct?” Brown tweeted to Weingarten.

Weingarten responded by accusing her of doing the dirty work of an advocacy group that supports many policies that teachers unions oppose. Weingarten suggested that Brown had gone on the attack because her husband, Dan Senor, is a board member of StudentsFirstNY, which jumped into the fight to defend Brown on Twitter.

Speaking today, Campbell acknowledged that her campaign against the teachers union could have been handled better, beginning with a full disclosure of her relationship with Senor, a top advisor to presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and his role at StudentsFirstNY.

“You know what?” Brown said today in a phone interview. “In retrospect, I totally wish I had.”

She added, “But at the end of the day does it really matter? Because that doesn’t change the issue. Everybody should be on the same page here.”

Brown also defended herself against Weingarten’s charge that her husband’s role had influenced her opinions.

“Give me a break,” Brown said. “I’ve been a journalist for 20 years. Nobody uses me. That’s really insulting. You want to attack me personally, that’s just a pathetic attempt to distract from the real issue. What they’re doing is defending sexual predators.”

A UFT spokesman said today that the union’s position is sticking to its long-standing position: There should be zero-tolerance for sex abuse of students, but that a bill proposed this year in New York would erode due process for teachers without making students safer. Weingarten said she was traveling and would be not be available to speak.

Brown urged the commission to make the legislation a top priority. Today, she said she was hopeful that the union would come around eventually and that Weingarten could lead the effort.

“She’s very influential,” Brown said. “If she dives into this, my gosh, nothing would make me happier.”

Election Forum

Tennesseans are about to get their first good look at candidates for governor on education

PHOTO: TN.gov
Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen speaks as his successor, Gov. Bill Haslam, listens during a 2017 forum hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. Tennesseans will elect their next governor in November.

For almost 16 years, two Tennessee governors from two different political parties have worked off mostly the same playbook when it comes to K-12 education.

This year, voters will choose a new governor who will determine if that playbook stays intact — or takes a different direction from the administrations of Bill Haslam, a Republican leaving office next January, and Phil Bredesen, the Democrat who preceded him.

Voters will get to hear from all but one of the major candidates Tuesday evening during the first gubernatorial forum televised statewide. Organizers say the spotlight on education is fitting since, based on one poll, it’s considered one of the top three issues facing Tennessee’s next governor. Both K-12 and higher education are on the table.

Candidates participating are:

  • Mae Beavers, a Republican from Mt. Juliet and former Tennessee state senator;
  • Randy Boyd, a Republican from Knoxville and former commissioner of Economic and Community Development and a Republican from Knoxville;
  • Karl Dean, a Democrat and former mayor of Nashville;
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat from Ripley and minority leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Rep. Beth Harwell, a Republican from Nashville and speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Bill Lee, a Republican businessman from Williamson County

The seventh major candidate, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, a Republican from Gallatin, is in the midst of a congressional session in Washington, D.C.

The next governor will help decide whether Tennessee will stay the course under its massive overhaul of K-12 education initiated under Bredesen’s watch. The work was jump-started by the state’s $500 million federal Race to the Top award, for which Tennessee agreed to adopt the Common Core academic standards for math and English; incorporate students’ scores from standardized tests in annual teacher evaluations; and establish a state-run turnaround district to intervene in low-performing schools at an unprecedented level.

Tennessee has since enjoyed steady student growth and watched its national rankings rise, but the transition hasn’t been pain-free. Pushback on its heavy-handed turnaround district led leaders to widen school improvement strategies. They also ordered new academic standards due to political backlash over the Common Core (though the revised standards are still basically grounded in Common Core).

A major issue now is whether the next governor and legislature will retain Tennessee’s across-the-board system of accountability for students, teachers, schools and districts. Snafus and outright failures with TNReady, the new standardized test that serves as the lynchpin, have prompted some calls to make the assessment just a diagnostic tool or scrap it altogether. Haslam and his leadership team have stood firm.

“We as Tennesseans made the right call — the tough call — on the policies we’ve pursued,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen told Chalkbeat recently. “Nearly every other state has compromised in some way on some of these core foundational components of policy work, and we have not.”

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, an advocacy group that works closely with Tennessee’s Department of Education, is a co-host of Tuesday’s forum. Known as SCORE, the group has sought to shape the election-year conversation with priorities that include teacher quality, improving literacy, and developing school leaders — all outgrowths of learnings during Tennessee’s Race to the Top era.

SCORE President David Mansouri said the goal is to maintain the momentum of historic gains in student achievement from the last decade. “The next administration’s education policy decisions will be crucial in determining whether Tennessee students continue to progress faster than students in other states and whether they graduate ready for postsecondary success,” he said Monday.

The one-hour forum will delve into a range of issues. College and career readiness, education equity, and school funding will be among the topics broached before each candidate is allowed a one-minute closing statement, according to David Plazas, a Tennessean editor who will help moderate the discussion.

“It will be really exciting,” Plazas promised. “We’re hoping the candidates are prepared to talk substantively on the issues and to avoid slogans.”

The event begins at 7 p.m. CT at Nashville’s Belmont University. Along with SCORE, it’s being co-hosted by USA TODAY NETWORK and Nashville’s NewsChannel 5. You can livestream the event here and learn more about attending or watching here.

Tennessee’s primary election is set for Aug. 2, with the general election on Nov. 6.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede